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State Sen. Jim Gaughran

Sen. Jim Gaughran was sworn into his second term by his friend, state Supreme Court Justice David Gugerty, outside of his old high school, Half Hollow Hills. Photo from Gaughran’s office

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) sees 2021 playing out in two parts.

With the carryover from all the public health and economic difficulties of 2021, the first few months will require continued crisis management.

The state will work to “figure out how to get vaccines [for COVID-19] to everybody, how to get schools fully open with kids going … and get businesses back open,” Gaughran said in a wide-ranging interview.

The pace at which the Empire State moves past the crisis depends in large part on the vaccine, which Gaughran described as “key.” He predicted that could occur sometime between February and April.

Up to now, the state senator said the process of getting the vaccine has been frustrating, with the website crashing. Gaughran’s office has fielded numerous calls from constituents. Some people in their 90s have called for help navigating the website, while grandchildren have also reached out on behalf of their older relatives, hoping to get an appointment for those who are among the most vulnerable to the virus.

Gaughran hopes that the vaccine supply chain will improve in the next few weeks.

The state senator believes that President Joe Biden (D) will “open up the floodgates” for the state to receive more vaccinations.

Gaughran anticipates that the process of receiving vaccinations will likely track the same course as viral testing. Initially, people struggled to get tested, often waiting for a test and then days or even a week for a result.

The state and the country have figured out how to improve testing, allowing “anybody to get a test,” he said. “I am hoping the same thing happens with the vaccine.”

The second phase of the year, which could occur around April, will involve the rebuilding of the economy, with opportunities for Long Island and New York to benefit from new directives out of the federal government including for green, alternative energy.

“We’re going to have major money for green energy jobs,” Gaughran said, with infrastructure upgrades, sewage treatment and other projects starting or expanding in 2021. “There’ll be a much stronger will coming out of Washington. We have to pump up the economy.”

New York is well positioned to capitalize on some of these economic and job opportunities, Gaughran said. That could be especially important as the government looks to support projects with considerable advanced planning.

“Whenever these grant programs are available, the states that are most prepared with shovel-ready projects and concrete plans to move forward will get the most money,” Gaughran said.

Gaughran said Long Island can build a green-energy workforce that is educated and supported by area institutions including his alma mater Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Committee opportunities

Gaughran is pleased to serve on several State Senate committees, including the Committee on Higher Education; the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions; the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations; and the Committee on Energy and Telecommunications.

Gaughran sees opportunities to advance his goals, as “being on a committee gives you an edge in pushing your legislative priorities.”

The investigations committee, which has subpoena power, can study problems in the state. Last year, that included housing discrimination.

This year, Gaughran would like to see that committee examine waste in government spending.

“We need to look at two investigations: One dealing with state budgets and state costs, [and the other] looking at local governments, where there may be waste, fraud and abuse,” he said.

As a member of the Higher Education Committee, Gaughran also hopes the committee can offer some help to Stony Brook University and Suffolk County Community College by “being a little bit flexible.”

Gaughran hopes these educational institutions can raise in-state tuition for those families that can afford to pay, while developing a scale that allows those who can’t afford higher costs to continue to pay their current rates.

The state senator also hopes to reignite back-burner projects.

“Let’s see how much we can front-load the timetable on fully electrifying the Long Island Rail Road to Port Jefferson,” Gaughran said. “Let’s hope there’ll be major funding for that type of a project. Instead of waiting years to do it, let’s start.”

PSEG trucks remove a downed tree in Mount Sinai Aug. 7. For several days, cars had to swerve around the tree that split the intersection of North Country Road and Crystal Brook Hollow Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

LIPA filed a $70 million lawsuit against PSEG-Long Island in State Supreme Court in Mineola against the New Jersey-based power company for breach of contract in response to Tropical Storm Isaias, which hit Aug. 4 and knocked out power for some Long Islanders for over eight days.

The Department of Public Service recommended a lawsuit to the LIPA Board of Trustees.

“Utility companies are beholden to ratepayers, and when that service is inadequate — or as in this case, a complete failure — those utilities need to be held accountable,” Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement. PSEG “failed to hold up their end. It’s inexcusable, and we’re going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

The complaint, filed by attorneys at the law firm Rivkin Radler, alleges breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, based on PSEG’s “failure to prepare for and manage restoration effort during and following Tropical Storm Isaias. LIPA also brings this action for specific performance to compel PSEG LI to comply with its obligations” under the operations service agreement.

The suit also alleges “corporate mismanagement, misfeasance, incompetence, and indifference, rising well beyond the level of simple negligence.”

Immediate Fix Demanded
State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport), an outspoken critic of LIPA and PSEG LI’s response to the storm, welcomed the legal action.

“It’s about time LIPA start acting to protect the best interests of Long Island ratepayers,” Gaughran said in a statement. Gaughran urged LIPA to make sure the $70 million is paid by PSEG shareholders and not ratepayers.

“An independent receiver should be appointed to refund this $70 million to hardworking Long Islanders and not dumped into the blackhole of LIPA’s budget,” Gaughran added.

In a statement, LIPA CEO Tom Falcone said PSEG LI must “immediately fix these failed information technology systems and abide by its contract” as LIPA continues to review its legal, contractual and termination options.

“PSEG Long Island has collected nearly half a billion dollars from Long Island customers over the past seven years while failing to meet its basic obligations,” Falcone added.

John Rhodes, Special Counsel for statewide ratepayer protection for the New York State Department of Public Service, asked if LIPA should “find a new service provider?”

In a statement, PSEG Long Island said it was “hard at work addressing recommendations in LIPA’s 30- and 90-day reports. We believe that the current public-private partnership is the best option for Long Island customers and we have remained committed to being the service provider of choice for LIPA.”

PSEG LI is “aware that this lawsuit has been filed and we are reviewing it.”

Lawsuit Claims

In the lawsuit, LIPA describes PSEG LI as demonstrating willful, bad faith and grossly negligent failures.

One of a litany of complaints during and after the storm was the inability for customers to connect with PSEG and to receive a reliable estimate of the time to restore power.

Ratepayers were “left without critical information as adequate telephone lines were overwhelmed with calls and an Outage Management System, selected by PSEG LI as able to withstand a major storm and paid for by LIPA, failed.”

About a million customer calls and 300,000 text messages did not reach PSEG LI, according to the suit.

Calls to outage and billing lines “became overloaded and failed,” the suit alleges, with 75% of customer calls to PSEG LI’s Outage Line not going through on the first day of the storm.

PSEG LI “did not properly monitor whether the calls on the Outage Line were connecting. Calls were dropped without PSEG LI’s knowledge,” according to the suit.

LIPA asserted that PSEG should have known about the inadequacy of the voice telephony system.

PSEG did not perform sufficient tests to determine whether the system would function during a major storm event before or in the 100 days after Isaias, the suit further claimed.

The problems with the telecommunications system predated the storm, as the suit indicated that the “OMS did not crash due to Isaias. It was already failing.”

PSEG LI “must develop a comprehensive integrated set of business continuity plans for every critical IT and communication system on Long Island, plus all repair and recovery activities,” according to the suit.

Stock photo

Despite Election Day being Nov. 3, local races have a week or more to settle on the final count.

Suffolk County Republican Board of Elections commissioner, Nick LaLota, said via email they hope counting will be finished before Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, though there is no way to know when everything will be finalized.

Republican candidates took leads in every local state and congressional race based on in-person ballots as the BOE started its absentee ballot count Nov. 16. Election experts have repeatedly said on average more Democrats used absentee ballots than Republicans did, though races will largely depend on unaffiliated voters. 

With that said, it will still be hard going for many Democrats in a few of the most hotly contested races. The U.S. Congressional District 1 race between U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and his Democratic opponent Nancy Goroff still remains out, though Zeldin currently holds a 65,120-vote lead. There are still over 89,000 absentee ballots left in that race, but Goroff would need to reportedly take all non-GOP registered votes in order to gain the upper hand.

A similar challenge is there in the New York State Senate District 1 race for Democrat Laura Ahearn, who has a steep uphill climb against her challenger, current Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk). Ahearn is down by 18,736 from in-person polling, and there are over 42,000 absentee ballots left to count, and she will need many votes outside the two main parties to gain the seat.

The race for State Senate District 2 between Republican Mario Mattera and Democrat Mike Siderakis is heavily favoring red, as there is a 35,109 difference in votes favoring Mattera with less than 43,000 votes to count. 

The State Assembly District 2 race between Democrat Laura Jens-Smith and Republican Jodi Giglio is likely to go in favor of the GOP. With a 14,355 difference and just under 17,000 absentee ballots to count, Giglio has all but cinched her new position. Jens-Smith has previously told TBR News Media she knows she has very little chance of victory.

Some elections are closer than others, such as State Assembly District 4. Many residents reported surprise in messages to TBR News Media at longtime Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s (D-Setauket) deficit of votes compared to his Republican opponent Michael Ross of 1,966. That race currently has 17,909 absentee ballots left to count.

However, there are a few confirmed elections. State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), with his lead of 23,419 with in-person ballots, is so far ahead of his young Democratic opponent Dylan Rice even the over-17,000 absentee ballots could not make a dent in the District 8 race.

On Nov, 17, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) said his opponent George Santos called him to concede. In a statement, Santos credited grassroots supporters and donors for the close race.

“I am proud that we gained the support of every PBA and first responder organization that endorsed this cycle,” Santos said.

Santos said there may be more announcements in the near future regarding his next steps.

“I would like to congratulate Congressman Tom Suozzi,” Santos said. “We wish him well going forward for the benefit of our district and constituents.”

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) declared victory Nov. 18 against his Republican opponent Ed Smyth. This came after votes absentee votes already counted in both Nassau and Suffolk put him over the edge.

“I am humbled to be reelected by the residents of the 5th Senate District and I thank them for their support,” Gaughran said in a statement. “During my first term in office, I worked tirelessly on behalf of Long Islanders and I am proud to have delivered real results — from a permanent property tax cap to support for small businesses navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. I will keep fighting for my constituents, for Long Island, and for all of New York State and I thank the voters for giving me the opportunity to continue to serve them.”

Above, is a breakdown of where each race stands with in-person votes as at Nov. 18 plus the number of absentee ballots left as last reported on Nov. 16 (from the Suffolk County Board of Elections).

Current vote totals are as of the morning of Nov. 18

Congress

NY1

Lee Zeldin (R): 176,323 Votes – 61.31%

Nancy Goroff (D): 111,203 Votes – 38.67%

Absentee Ballots: 89,401

NY3

Tom Suozzi (D): 46,112 Votes – 46.65%

George Santos (R): 52,117 Votes – 52.72%

Absentee Ballots: 34,902

New York State Senate

SD1

Laura Ahearn (D): 55,557 Votes – 42.78%

Anthony Palumbo (R): 74,293 Votes – 57.20%

Absentee Ballots: 42,550

SD2

Mario Mattera (R): 79,762 Votes – 64.10%

Mike Siderakis (D): 44,653 Votes – 35.88%

Absentee Ballots: 42,781

SD5

Jim Gaughran (D): 27,132 Votes – 43.51%

Ed Smyth (R): 34,575 Votes – 55.44%

Absentee Ballots: 21,276

New York State Assembly

AD2

Jodi Giglio (R): 34,290 Votes – 62.39%

Laura Jens-Smith (D): 19,935 Votes – 36.27%

Absentee Ballots: 16,979

AD4

Michael Ross (R): 22,966 Votes – 51.88%

Steve Englebright (D): 21,000 Votes – 47.44%

Absentee Ballots: 17,909

AD8

Mike Fitzpatrick (R): 39,937 Votes – 70.73%

Dylan Rice (D): 16,518 Votes – 29.26%

Absentee Ballots: 17,227

AD10

Steve Stern (D): 24,141 Votes – 49.93%

Jamie Silvestri (R): 24,197 Votes – 50.05%

Absentee Ballots: 18,529

AD12

Keith Brown (R): 30,638 Votes – 57.20%

Michael Marcantonio (D): 22,908 Votes – 42.77%

Absentee Ballots: 15,906

From left to right: Town of Huntington Councilman Ed Smyth (R) is going against State Senator Jim Gaughran (D) for a seat in NY’s 5th District. File photos

Town of Huntington Councilman Ed Smyth (R) is looking to unseat state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) in the 5th District. Smyth is currently serving his second term on the Town Board, while Gaughran is completing his first term as state senator.

The two participated in an Oct. 16 Zoom debate with the TBR News Media editorial staff to discuss their strategies regarding issues on the forefront of constituents’ minds, including the state’s actions during the pandemic, bail reform, water quality and more.

COVID Response

Both the councilman and senator agreed that the state’s response to the pandemic was appropriate, and the decision to give Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) executive authority was warranted.

“There was no road map for this,” Gaughran said. “Everyone got hit over the head with this.” 

The senator said he still remembers when he and his colleagues being briefed by Dr. Howard Zucker, New York State commissioner of health, back in March about the virus and how there was a need to move forward quickly and give Cuomo the power to make decisions quickly. 

“We went through a lot of pain, and now we’re climbing back,” Gaughran said.

While the senator doesn’t feel businesses should open up fully all at once, he does want them to open as quickly as possible while remaining safe.

Smyth said he wants to help businesses open up quicker as he feels the emergency has now passed regarding the coronavirus and medical professionals have a better grasp on it. He said it needs to be recognized that every type of business has a different need, and that every person can decide to enter a business based on their own health conditions and fears.

“An electrical contractor has a very different need than a restaurant or bowling alley,” Smyth said.

Gaughran said his office has been working closely with businesses to identify their needs and wants. He has seen many working well with the new public health guidelines,

“I’m working every day with businesses in my district trying to help them reopen fully but safely,” he said. “But these decisions shouldn’t be made by politicians, they should be made by health officials.”

Smyth agreed that legislators need to sit down with health officials and let them weigh in. He said during the pandemic, some of the guidelines were applied unfairly and unevenly, and he said he didn’t understand why a person could go on a plane but not go to church or a gym.

“The quarantine is being applied unequally, while one size doesn’t fit all,” Smyth said. “The logic behind this, to me, doesn’t pass a common sense test.”

Gaughran said he has seen some unfairness, but he said with slight upticks in the infection rate, “we need to be safe.”

LIPA

A hot topic in the district has been the Long Island Power Authority’s Northport power plant.  For years, many local residents have been waiting for a settlement with LIPA. The Northport power plant was taxed at $86 million, which LIPA said was overassessed, and the entity was seeking a court-order reduction which could have led to a 90% cut of taxes for the company. This in turn would have led the Town of Huntington being responsible for an $800 million refund to LIPA and school taxes would have been raised.

A recently proposed settlement, agreed on by the Northport-East Northport school district and the town, will cut LIPA’s taxes to $46 million from $86 million over the next seven years, lessening the burden a court-ordered reduction would have imposed.

Gaughran said the town should be obligated to make the final agreement accessible to residents.

“Until you get the final agreement, you don’t know exactly what it is,” he said.

Smyth said while the details of the settlement are still being worked out, all information so far has been made public. He said looking over the case, “it was begging to settle,” adding the power plant had been overly assessed and calling it “a dinosaur.”

“It would be great if it could be redeveloped into a far more efficient plant,” he said, adding that would be up to LIPA.

Education

Smyth said by nature he is a “debt hawk” and doesn’t believe in any government going into debt, but regarding school funding and with the COVID-19 impact, he said it may be appropriate to accrue some debt to ensure schools are funded properly. He said it’s also important to comb through the budget to find any abuse, citing a recent audit by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) that found millions of dollars of abuse from the Medicaid program. 

“Every line item has to earn its way into the budget, but school funding should not be a negotiable item,” Smyth said.

Gaughran said he was behind a bill that made the 2% tax cap permanent in New York state, adding that he thought the new permanent law would be a “game changer.” He said he was also proud that he brought more school aid to his district than ever before during his first year in office. The state senator said if President Donald Trump (R) gets reelected he is concerned that the state won’t receive the federal funding it needs. Without the proper federal and state funding, it will add to the property tax burden and more people will leave the state.

“This is a very slippery slope,” Gaughran said.

Smyth pointed out that whether or not New York receives federal aid is not solely Trump’s decision, as the house and senate also vote on aid too.

“It’s not solely one person calling all the shots in Washington, D.C.,” Smyth said.

Bail Reform

Smyth said the bail reform bill that was passed in 2019 needs to be repealed, saying the results of the bill have been “disastrous.”

“No one should ever spend a night in jail for an expired registration, but low-level crimes were a Trojan horse that carried far more serious crimes into the bail reform bill,” Smyth said.

Gaughran said the bill was originally presented on its own merits but was blocked by many legislators which led to the governor inserting it into the budget. Gaughran said it was important to get passed the permanent 2 percent tax cap, which was also in the same budget, and he wasn’t going to walk away from schools.

“At the end of the day when you get to Albany you have to make some tough choices sometimes, and when you’re making those decisions you have to decide whether or not you’re going to vote on a budget based on what’s in it,” the senator said.

He added that he met with colleagues and law enforcement representatives after the bail reform bill was passed, and he and others immediately filed a bill to restore some violent offences back to allowing judges to set terms of bail.

Smyth said Gaughran should have been standing on his desk arguing the bail reform law. He calling any changes made to the reform “window dressing.”

Protecting Waterways

Both candidates discussed the importance of protecting the health of local waterways. 

Smyth said he is a big proponent of homeowners being allowed to demolish debilitated homes and rebuilding a new one while keeping the current tax assessment as long as it is the same size. He said in doing so septic tanks and heating systems would be updated. He pointed out that what goes into the ground we eventually drink or wash into the harbors and bays. Providing an incentive to update septic systems would help to secure the health of local waters.

Gaughran said he recommends that the New York State Department of Conservation cracks down on New York City storm runoffs, which eventually flows into the Long Island Sound. He also is in favor of updating septic systems and working on ways to install sewer systems, water filtration systems and rain gardens. If he gets reelected, he said he has a plan to provide funding to municipalities to do just that.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran said he received more calls than any other time in his career from people who could not get to PSEG. Photo from Gaughran's office

Following the power outage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias in early August, State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) conducted a survey of residents.

With 3,243 people responding, the survey indicated that people lost an average of $434.66. That compares with the maximum of $250 that PSEG Long Island said it would reimburse residents if they produced an itemized list and proof of loss.

Click here to see the full survey results

“I don’t keep my receipts,” Gaughran said in an interview after he publicly released the survey. “I throw mine out. I would imagine a lot of Long Islanders are keeping receipts” from their grocery purchases after their experience with the storm, the outage and the food losses, particularly amid the economic decline caused by the pandemic.

More than half the survey respondents, or over 58%, said they were not able to contact PSEG easily about their outage. At the time of the storm, PSEG recognized that its new communication system was ineffective.

Additionally, over two thirds, or 67 percent, of the residents in the survey said PSEG did not restore power before the estimated time.

In the two years he’s been in the senate, Gaughran said he’s never had this many responses to questions from residents about anything.

The Democratic senator highlighted how over 56% of residents were unaware of PSEG’s Critical Care Program, although those residents don’t believe anyone in their households would qualify. An additional 21% of the survey respondents didn’t know about the program and believed someone in their house might qualify.

The fact that more than half of the people who responded didn’t know about the program is “significant,” Gaughran said.

“Unacceptable” Storm Response

In response to a letter Gaughran sent to LIPA, CEO Thomas Falcone said he would “make sure that your survey results are appropriately reflected in the work streams for LIPA’s upcoming 90-day and 180-day investigative reports into PSEG Long Island’s storm response.”

Falcone called PSEG LI’s response to the storm “unacceptable” and said the LIPA Board has “insisted that the failures not be repeated.”

LIPA’s 30-day report said the computer system caused incorrect restoration estimates.

In its report about the storm response, LIPA concluded that “problematic management control issues,” combined with outside vendors who had “poorly defined service quality assurances” delivered an unsatisfactory customer experience.

A tree fell on a mail truck on Old Post Road in Setauket during Tropical Storm Isaias. Photo by John Broven

LIPA’s 2020 Internal Audit plan had previously scheduled a re-audit of the process to maintain customer lists to begin the fourth quarter of 2020. After reports of outdated customer lists during Isaias, LIPA accelerated that process, which started in September. The power authority will address that further in its 90 and 180 day Task Force reports.

The senator, who presented the results of his survey, also reiterated concerns he has about LIPA’s oversight of PSEG LI.

Gaughran said the Public Service Commission, which has considerably more direct oversight with other utilities around the state, doesn’t have the same authority with PSEG LI.

The PSC provides “recommendations” to LIPA and can “force them to pay money to their customers for lost food, lost business. [It] can do this with every utility except PSEG LI because the relationship is different.”

In responding to this concern, LIPA, in a statement, said the LIPA Reform Act provides the Department of Public Service with oversight responsibilities of LIPA and PSEG.

“LIPA’s storm oversight activities are in addition to DPS’s statutory role and DPS’s statutory role is the same for PSEG Long Island as it is for the state’s other utilities,” LIPA said in a statement.

The DPS provides independent recommendations to the LIPA Board of Trustees. The board has accepted every recommendation from the DPS, according to the statement.

LIPA said the only difference between the oversight of PSEG LI and other utilities in New York is that the DPS recommendations are to LIPA’s nine-member board, instead of the Public Service Commission.

The 30-day report includes 37 specific recommendations for PSEG Long Island to put in place by Oct. 15, LIPA said.

As for losses from the storm, LIPA said it secured direct reimbursement for customers through the customer spoilage reimbursement program. That could be as high as $500 per residential customer for food and medicine. PSEG LI is forgoing up to $10 million in compensation to fund this program.

LIPA “may look to pursue additional actions after [its] review and the Department of Public Service’s Investigation” is complete, LIPA said in a statement.

In his letter to Gaughran, Falcone said the 90-day and 180-day reports would have additional “actionable recommendations,” which the LIPA board would ask for independent verification and validation to make sure these recommendations have been implemented.

 

There will be a significant reduction in the number of people who can commemorate 9/11 this year, with many like the annual event in Shoreham being closed to the public due to COVID-19. File photo by Kyle Barr

TBR News Media reached out to several local elected officials at the national, state and county level to let them share their thoughts as we head into another commemoration of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

*This post will be updated as more officials respond to our questions.*

Sen. Gaughran Shares his Thoughts on 9/11

State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) spoke with the TBR News Media on the eve of the 19th year since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

TBR: What do you think of when you reflect on 9/11 today?

Gaughran: When I think of 9/11, I obviously think of the heroism and the number of people I know who died. I certainly think of the police officers and the firefighters and the first responders who, without hesitancy, ran right into those buildings. Probably, some of them knew they were going to get killed. Maybe others figured it was another day when they were going to try to save people.

TBR: Who is the first person you think of in connection with 9/11?

On Sept. 11, 2019, Gov. Cuomo signs 9/11 bill, sponsored by N.Y. State Sen. Jim Gaughran.

Gaughran: Since I have been in the senate, the first person that comes to mind more than anyone else is Tim DeMeo, who is a constituent of mine, who was working for the Department of Environmental Conservation. He was in charge of dealing with oil spills, other contaminated sites and other hazardous clean ups. He was in Manhattan, driving over the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn, when the plane crashed. He got a call, “You should turn around, go back to Manhattan. This is something we’ll have to deal with.”

He turned around. The second plane crashed. He was permanently injured by debris. He stayed there. The next day and the next day, throughout [the clean-up] with all the other heroes…

He worked alongside police and firefighters and others working at the scene. He got very sick. He was not entitled to the same disability retirement benefits that everybody else was who was there. The way the state legislature wrote the bill, it was written so it would [be for] uniformed employees. He was not one of them. He was in the Department of Environmental Conservation. There were eight or nine other people like him. One of the first who came to see me in my district office, he came and told me a story … He said, “everybody else has been helped and I haven’t.”

He has significant medical issues. Attempts to pass a bill never went anywhere. I ended up writing a bill. We passed a bill last year, on 9/11. The Governor [Andrew Cuomo (D)] signed the bill.

It’s my proudest achievement so far. It didn’t help as many people as some of the other legislation I dealt with. I’m proudest of [that bill]. All these people were just as much heroes as everyone else. They were left out. New York was ignoring them.

TBR: How would you compare the heroism of first responders who raced to the burning buildings in Manhattan to the heroism of first responders and health care workers who have dealt with the ongoing unknowns and challenges from the pandemic?

Gaughran: I think it’s basically the same. A nurse or a doctor or a firefighter or an EMT who picks up somebody and puts them in an ambulance and brings them to the hospital are doing this knowing they could easily contract COVID and face the same issues that people they are trying to help are facing. The risks are the same. Running into a burning building is a more immediate risk. Dealing with a sick COVID patient, who may give you the disease, you’re facing a risk that potentially could cost you your life.

TBR: Do you think the divisiveness of today will ease during 9/11?

Gaughran: I would hope so. I remember on 9/11, watching George W. Bush at the site, that iconic image, with the bull horn and everything. That wasn’t that long after the election. My kids were young. They paid attention to everything. [They said] “dad, you didn’t vote for him.” This is a moment when we all have to stand behind him. It was a different world then. It’s hard to get people to agree to the same thing today. The president we have now is not going out of his way to try to create national unity.

I voted for Al Gore, but Bush did push for national unity after that, including visiting mosques, to make it clear that even though the terrorists who killed us were of a certain background, the folks who were living in the United States who happened to be Muslim are patriotic citizens like everyone else.

Rep. Lee Zeldin Shares his Thoughts on 9/11

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) responded to questions from TBR News Media on the eve of the 19th year since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

TBR: What do you think of when you reflect on 9/11 today?

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

Zeldin: The bravery, selflessness, fearlessness, and resolve of first responders, Americans, and our entire nation as a whole. When so many of us think about 9/11, we remember exactly where we were that day, when ordinary Americans became extraordinary heroes. We vividly remember what we heard, what we saw and how we felt. We remember first responders running towards danger at the greatest possible risk to their own lives.

While our memories of those moments have not faded, most importantly, neither has our resolve to rise stronger than ever before. New Yorkers remain committed, especially this year, to remember, honor and exemplify those Americans, who in the face of unconscionable evil, were the very best of who we are.

TBR:  Who is the first person that comes to mind in connection with 9/11?

Zeldin: It’s difficult to choose just one person who comes to mind, but with the full permanent funding of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund signed into law last year, one of the first people who comes to mind is Luis Alvarez. While he wasn’t with us to witness the legislation he fought so hard for signed into law, he spent his final weeks with us continuing the fight until the very end so other 9/11 first responders wouldn’t have to.

TBR: In the context of the pandemic, is 9/11 overlooked?

Zeldin: Even in the midst of a pandemic, the commitment of New Yorkers to Never Forget, as we’ve seen with the Tribute in Light and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, underscores how dedicated New Yorkers are to the memory of those who died on that day and the so many who have passed since due to 9/11 related illnesses.

TBR: How would you compare the heroism of first responders who raced to the burning buildings in Manhattan to the heroism of first responders and health care workers who have dealt with the ongoing unknowns and challenges from the pandemic?

Zeldin: The same bravery in the face of clear danger and uncertainty that drove so many first responders on 9/11 to save countless lives at the expensive of their own, is the same bravery that has spurred so many of our local first responders and health care workers to serve throughout the novel outbreak of coronavirus.

A large tree in front of Emma S. Clark Memorial Library was no match for Hurricane Isaias. Photo by Pam Botway

Politicians with long memories and short fuses demanded answers from PSEG and LIPA for the communications problems and the slow restoration of power after Tropical Storm Isaias, even as they lamented how this wasn’t supposed to happen again after the long recovery from Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D) said LIPA and PSEG were inconsiderate with their spoiled food policy. Photo by Kyle Barr

In a full-day hearing of the combined New York State Assembly and Senate, local politicians including Assemblymen Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) and Senators James Gaughran (D) and Todd Kaminsky (D-Rockville Center) questioned everyone from the chairman of the Public Service Commission, John Rhodes, to the President of PSEG Long Island, Daniel Eichhorn, and the CEO of LIPA, Thomas Falcone.

“We were told after Superstorm Sandy that things would change, but they did not,” Kaminsky said. “Why do we pay some of the highest electric and internet bills in the country when we couldn’t reach a provider, when the information we got was inaccurate? Why is it so hard to receive a reimbursement? Who is funding those reimbursements?”

Indeed, Rhodes, of the Public Service Commission, said he wanted answers from numerous utilities throughout the state and that the commission was not going to leave “any tool on the table.”

That proved small consolation for politicians and their constituents, some of whom were without power for over a week and many of whom had to throw out the entire contents of their powerless refrigerators and freezers. That is an especially problematic proposition in the aftermath of the pandemic, when budgets are tight and the recession caused by the lockdown has cut jobs in numerous industries.

Englebright questioned why PSEG is reimbursing customers for food spoilage only if their power was out for at least 72 hours. The reimbursed amount totaled $150 if the customers didn’t have receipts and could be as high as $250 if they had receipts, photographs, a canceled check or a credit card bill.

Englebright suggested the timeframe should allow for food spoiled after about 48 hours and wondered why the utilities had not settled on a longer time frame. The Setauket assemblyman wondered whether PSEG believed food “spoils more slowly on Long Island than any other place.”

Eichhorn said the 72 hour threshold defined numerous factors in a storm and “aligns with some of our processes.” The three day time frame “triggers certain things.”

Falcone added that the 72 hours defined a major storm.

“That’s not a health definition,” Englebright countered, but, rather was a “storm definition. That doesn’t necessarily reflect what somebody’s suffering from if their refrigerator is out for perhaps even half of that length of time.”

PSEG’s Eichhorn acknowledged that the company’s response to the storm was “not in line with our expectations.” He said the company is conducting its own reports to figure out what went wrong and to make changes and improvements.

“I’m not here to make excuses,” Eichhorn said. “We own the experience our customers had and we are committed to fixing it.”

Kaminsky asked whether PSEG had tested its system prior to the storm. Eichhorn responded that the company did a simulation in June and that PSEG passed that test.

That passing grade, despite the performance a few months later, will be a focus of PSEG’s own review, as well as a review conducted by LIPA.

“The most relevant stress test was the storm and [the PSEG system] was obviously inadequate,” Falcone said. The systems were “not robust enough” to allow customers to report power failures to PSEG.

On behalf of their constituents, politicians also lamented the shifting timeline for restoring power. In several cases, representatives at the virtual meeting recounted how residents spoke with people in utility trucks or representatives from PSEG who told them their power was on when their constituents were still struggling through the ongoing outage.

In an interview, Gaughran expressed his frustration with the utility arrangement on Long Island, where LIPA oversees PSEG, while the Public Service Commission has no direct authority or recourse.

“The Public Service Commission cannot fine them or sanction them,” Gaughran said. “They’re totally out of the loop.”

Sen. James Gaughran and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory officials at an Aug. 18 press conference. He has called for additional oversight of both LIPA and PSEG Photo from Sen. Gaughran’s office

Reflecting the concerns of his fellow senators and assemblymen and assemblywomen, Gaughran wondered what the utilities would do to protect Long Islanders in the event that another storm, with potentially stronger winds and heavier rain, impacted the region.

Gaughran said he would like to ensure that PSEG and LIPA don’t tap into a storm reserve fund, which is a collection of money set aside with rate payers money.

“The language in that fund is clear: they can’t access that for any part of the cost” from mismanagement or inadequate storm response, Gaughran said. “If you have an out-of-town crew sitting at the side of the road for hours waiting for instructions … those extra costs are costs of incompetence.”

Gaughran introduced a bill that would give the Public Service Commission the authority to investigate and sanction and fine the company and force them to take corrective action.

To prevent this kind of communication failure from happening again, Eichhorn said the company was conducting reviews of its computer system, which includes its outage management system and the telephone and digital experiences.

“We have made interim changes during and since the storm,” Eichhorn said. “We are continuing to do an after-action review to identify additional short and long term changes to ensure we’re ready for the next storm.”

Falcone added that LIPA would “go back and see why the system failed. We are hiring independent people to redo the stress test.”

Assemblyman Smith asked whether PSEG knew that National Grid employees weren’t a part of the storm response crews, even though people with experience were on Long Island.

“National Grid [employees] were not used during the storm,” Eichhorn said. “That will be included in the review.”

State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

On June 8, the New York State Senate voted to clear several police reform bills in the wake of Minneapolis man George Floyd, who was killed in police custody, and the massive wave of protests that have swept across New York, the city and Long Island. 

The bills ranged from a repeal of 50-a, a civil rights law that protected the personnel records of cops, firefighters and correction officers from public scrutiny, to banning the police’ use of chokeholds to restrain alleged perps.

Some bills received universal bipartisan support, while others were divided on party lines. Some votes stick out. All Long Island senators voted yes to bills that police must report the discharge of a service weapon immediately, and all voted yes to banning the use of chokeholds by police. Still, Republicans came together against a special office for investigating incidents of death of people when in police custody and against 50-a.

Sen. John Flanagan (R-Northport),, the senate minority leader, said in a statement that while there is no excuse for police brutality, the repeal of 50-a “denies due process for our law enforcement officers whose records already were available under a court’s discretion,” and provides “false accusations” made against officers.

It is not a reason to vilify and punish every man and woman in law enforcement who serves to protect and serve our communities in New York, nor should it be a reason to sow division,” he said in a statement.

Gaughran, a Democrat, voted yes to all reform bills.

Our nation is at a pivotal moment in its history and people on Long Island have taken to the streets to peacefully demand change,” Gaughran said in a statement. “This package of justice reform legislation is important to ensuring trust between the brave men and women of law enforcement and the communities they work tirelessly to keep safe.”

State Sen. Ken LaValle was one of only two senators to vote no on a bill that confirms the police are required to see to the medical or mental health needs of a person in custody.

LaValle’s office did not return requests for comment about his votes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has signed off on a majority of the bills so far, and has also signed an executive order mandating police all over the state come up with plans to overhaul their departments or face loss of state funding.

  • Senate Bill S.8496: repealing Civil Rights Law 50-a, which helped shield the records of law enforcement. With the repeal, citizens and groups can make Freedom of Information Law requests for those records, which will not reveal the private information of individuals.
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted no. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted no.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.2574B: creating an Office of Special Investigation within the Department of Law, under the Attorney General, to investigate and potentially prosecute, if warranted, any incident of a person whose death was caused by a police officer or peace officer. 
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted no. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted no.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.3253B: clarifies that a person not under arrest or in custody of police has the right to record police activity and to maintain custody and control of that recording, and of any property or instruments used to record police activities. 
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted yes. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.6670B: the bill, also called the “Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act,” prohibits the use of chokeholds by law enforcement and establishes the crime of aggravated strangulation as a Class-C felony. 
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted yes. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.3595B: Establishes the Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office within the Department of Law to review, study, audit and make recommendations regarding operations, policies, programs and practices of local law enforcement agencies. 
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted no. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted no.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.1830C: Also called the Police Statistics and Transparency Act, will require courts to compile and publish racial and other demographic data of all low level offenses, including misdemeanors and violations. The bill also requires police departments to submit annual reports on arrest-related deaths to be submitted to the Department of Criminal Justice Services, governor and legislature.
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted yes. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.8492: This legislation essentially gives an individual right of action when another person summons a police or peace officer on them without reason in cases when there was no reason to suspect a crime or when they were not presenting an imminent threat to person or property.
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted yes. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.6601A: The bill amends the Civil Rights Law by adding a new section that affirms New Yorkers’ right to medical and mental health attention while in police custody.
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted no. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.8493: Creates a New York State Police Body-Worn Cameras Program which will direct state police officers with body-worn cameras that are to be used any time an officer conducts a patrol and prescribes mandated situations when the camera is to be turned on and recording.
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted yes. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.2575B: This legislation, sponsored by Senator Jamaal Bailey, will require state and local law enforcement officers, as well as peace officers, to report, within six hours, when they discharge their weapon where a person could have been struck, whether they were on or off duty.
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted yes. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.

Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer points to a chart showing the impact discovery law changes have had on small municipalities. Photo by David Luces

Town supervisors in Suffolk County say recent criminal justice reform has caused “unintended consequences” to municipalities and local code enforcement. They are asking the state to exempt small municipalities from new guidelines, among other things. 

The issue they have is with the state’s new discovery provisions, which require names and contact information for complaints to be turned over within 15 days of arraignment. In turn, it has eliminated anonymity, which many municipalities rely on when it comes to handling code violations. 

“You’re not going to call, you’re not going to complain, what does that do for the quality of life?”

— Ed Romaine

Rich Schaffer (D), Town of Babylon supervisor and chair of the county Democratic committee, said at a March 5 press conference they usually receive a lot of anonymous tips from concerned residents but have noticed many are not willing to come forward with the new changes. 

“They don’t want to put their names down, and quite frankly we don’t want to [either],” he said. “We want to be able to go after the offenders and educate them on how to clean up their act and be a good neighbor.”

A letter signed by all of the county’s town supervisors was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in January. The group said with the new standards in how case information is turned over to the courts, it means there are currently no distinctions between a homicide case and a “municipal code violation for high grass.” 

The supervisors said the reform was rushed through the legislature and didn’t give municipalities enough time to formulate a public education campaign. In addition, the changes hurt them on a local level because the state “got involved in things that we didn’t need their involvement in,” Schaffer said.

Supervisors also complained the requirement for after issuing a summons, a court date must be set within 20 days. Officials said it used to take a month to process cases, but now there are four additional “hoops to jump through” to process a complaint. A case could take up to two years to be resolved.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the criminal justice reform has had a “chilling effect on code enforcement.” 

“So now, if you live next to a guy that has a house with two illegal apartments and four or five unregistered vehicles and trash on the property, if you call, we are obligated by state law to tell the guy next door that you called,” he said. “You’re not going to call, you’re not going to complain, what does that do for the quality of life?”

The four supervisors called on the state Legislature to pass a bill that would allow townships to handle their own code enforcement cases and reinstate anonymity.  

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) and state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) are proposing bills that would allow anonymity for those reporting local code violations, let municipalities take these cases out of district court and allow them to create their own administrative bureau. 

Chad Lupinacci (R), Town of Huntington supervisor, said many of the problems discussed can be eliminated if municipalities had their own administrative bureau. Huntington is one of three municipalities in the state to have one. 

“The bureau should be up and running sometime in May,” he said. “Code enforcement officers, instead of having to comply with these changes, will be able to just enforce the code and ensure that neighborhoods are safer.”

Brookhaven assistant attorney David Moran said they will work in compliance with the law but called it an “unfunded mandate” with no real direction given how to be in compliance. 

Schaffer said he’s volunteering Babylon to be the guinea pig regarding not following the new law and seeing what comes out of it. 

“I’d like to be the test case to challenge the system,” he said.

Local elected officials and representatives from Uber announced a new initiative called, Long Island Safe Ride, to combat drunk driving during Thanksgiving week Nov. 22. Photo from Sen. Gaughran's office

Thanksgiving Eve remains one of the busiest and deadliest nights of the year for accidents from drunk driving. The holiday sees increases in both drunk driving accidents and fatalities. To combat the issue this Thanksgiving, New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D) and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas joined Uber to announce a new initiative, Long Island Safe Ride, to combat drunk driving during Thanksgiving week. Long Island Safe Ride is a multipronged approach that will combine discounts for rides home with increased law enforcement efforts to deter drinking and driving.

“Long Island Safe Ride is a multifaceted, private-public partnership to remind everyone that drinking and driving have no place on our roadways,” Gaughran said. “This initiative, with discounts on Uber rides and increased law enforcement efforts under the leadership of County Executive Laura Curran and District Attorney Madeline Singas will help ensure our roadways are safe this holiday week.”

Under Long Island Safe Ride, Uber will be offering a $10 discount on rides home for Thanksgiving Eve to prevent driving under the influence. Law enforcement will be launching increased patrols and checkpoints to ensure roadways are safe from intoxicated drivers.

To take advantage of the Uber program, use the code SAFERIDENY19 at the Uber app between 9 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27, to 3 a.m. Thursday morning, Nov. 28. The $10 discount works anywhere in New York State. Uber is picking up the cost.